Will This ‘Unbelievable Play’ Help Patriots Back Land Roster Spot?

'I don't know how he came up with the football'


August 29, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — J.J. Taylor made quite the impression in his final bid to keep his New England Patriots roster spot.

The third-year running back finished with just three carries for 7 yards and two catches for 22 yards in last Friday’s preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders, but he also delivered arguably the most impressive hustle play of this Patriots summer.

On a pass play late in the first half, quarterback Brian Hoyer had the ball knocked from his hand by edge rusher Tashawn Bower. Despite being 10 yards downfield from Hoyer and outside the numbers, the 5-foot-6 Taylor was able to sprint back and recover the fumble before any of the Raiders’ much closer (and larger) defenders could pounce on it.

The highlight-reel recovery came at a pivotal time for Taylor, who entered Week 3 of the preseason on the roster bubble. Running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri applauded him for his effort.

“I told him that was an unbelievable effort play,” Sunseri said. “And that’s just the kind of kid he is. It’s what the whole (running back) room is made of. It’s a bunch of guys who go out and do their job and try to the best of their ability to put the team first.

“It was just an unbelievable play. I don’t know how he came up with the football, but it was a great effort play, and I see that a lot from him every single day in practice and from every guy every day in practice. So it’s good to see it on the football field.”

Taylor also had a standout moment in pass protection in the Patriots’ previous preseason outing, dropping a blitzing Carolina Panthers defender with a well-timed block. Over three exhibition games, he carried 14 times for 56 yards and caught three passes on four targets for 33 yards, working almost exclusively with the Hoyer/Bailey Zappe-led backup offense.

Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are locks to make the 53-man roster, and rookie Pierre Strong almost certainly will stick, as well, as a fourth-round draft pick. Taylor’s roster odds looked long last week, but the ankle injury that knocked Ty Montgomery out of the Raiders game could open a spot for either him or sixth-round rookie Kevin Harris.

Mostly unremarkable in training camp, Kevin Harris enjoyed his best game as a pro against Las Vegas (four carries, 54 yards) but lost a fumble late.

The Patriots’ decision on whether to roster Taylor or Harris likely will hinge on the severity of Montgomery’s injury, which had not been reported as of Monday afternoon. If he can return within a few weeks, they could feel confident carrying just Damien Harris, Stevenson and Strong at the position. But if it’s a long-term or season-ending injury, they’ll need more depth at that spot.

Montgomery was one of four players not spotted at Monday’s practice. The Patriots must cut their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Thumbnail photo via Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports Images
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
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